Digital Public History Project (1): Gleanings From User Research

Similarly with the last semester, this round of academic studies will culminate in another digital project. In short, I will be constructing a narrative exhibit with images to commemorate the 50th year anniversary of the Fort Lawton Takeover in Seattle, Washington in 1970 by American Indian activists.

To construct an effective exhibit of the event, I have been working to identify the audiences my project will target. This includes catering to the members of the public who observer the results of the project, but also building a proposal for conducting interviews with those who have firsthand experience with the event. In the process of preparing for this project, the user research I have conducted so far has been influencing how this project will ultimately look once it is completed.

Audience & Community

When I first began formulating my ideas for this project, I had it in mind that it would mainly be for the non-Native American communities in Seattle that are centered on the place where the event occurred (now known as Discovery Park). However, it quickly became clear to me that the qualitative methods I wanted to use to look deep into the topic center American Indians in the narrative. Of course, this was the goal all along, but the project itself was not meant to be for American Indians as the implications of the project are meant to bring attention to the historical conflicts responsible for the presence of Native American community members and elements among the predominately White areas in Seattle.

As such, members of American Indian communities would be in a more secondary audience position. Discussion with my professor for this semester helped me to see that rather than having a primary and secondary audience in this project, both American Indians and non-Indians play a more audience-adjacent role. This coincides with my methodological focus on Indian participants, transforming my project into not only an educational work for the non-Indian population of the area, but a chance for the marginalized voices of Indigenous communities to be heard and validated. Side note: this is a good example of how public history work can enact social justice when weighing in on historical discourse.

Interviews

My professor wisely cautioned me about making this project bigger than it needs to be for this course. I say this because my initial thoughts on this project saw the final result consisting mostly of narrative interpretations and images of the event from archives. But after formulating my interview proposal and protocols, I saw how expansive this project could become, one day potentially including a library bank of audio interviews from the surviving individuals from the event. Though I will heed my professor’s words this time around, thinking about the interview process has moved me to be more inclusive of other forms of data and methods for this project. I have not conducted many interviews during my academic studies and I have certainly not published a single one in any kind of way (such as by hosting it on a publicly available website). Yet, my personal connection to this event is inspiring me to make sure I do it right and I believe audio recordings would be a good way to enrich this attempt at public history.

While thinking of potential interviewees, I have realized that I have quite a few family members beyond my grandma (the person I usually think of when it comes to this subject) that are connected to the event. While my grandma has now passed, my grandpa is still living, along with all of their daughters (my mom and aunties). Furthermore, my grandma lived with our extended family over in Idaho, meaning many of my cousins have likely been exposed to her stories about the events to a greater degree than I was since I have primarily lived in another state.

What has Changed?

With these in mind, I have found that my project has changed since my initial rendition of the proposal. My audience has shifted from consisting of two audiences with indirect connections to adjacent audiences with more direct relations between the two during the event. My focus on utilizing interviews has not only diversified the future content of the project, but also drawn me closer to the sources of knowledge personally available to me.

I find it interesting how observing just this one aspect of public history as significantly impacted how I will be building this project. But when considered in the greater context of doing public history, it makes sense. As has been noted many times in our readings up to this point, public history is a collaborative field and is for the benefit of the public/audiences/communities involved. By increasing the level of involvement of the public and those directly associated with the history being presented, projects naturally increase in the substantive work produced by collaboration. This is a more accurate portrayal of the community members who might observe the event and endears projects to them because they are represented in the research. They take comfort in knowing they had a say.

Dwelling on these items, I think the changes made here are in the right direction. These developments are, to me, as testament to the very values and characteristics of the field of public history.

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Kyle

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